The fantasm is an imaginary construction that helps us to organize and to understand ourselves and the world. It is the means by which we live as it is the foundation for our identity, an identity that has been carefully elaborated by the ego that is at nexus of the imaginary structure. It harbours our beliefs and ideals, ideology and the myths we live.
The relationship between the real and the fantasm is complex because we can only approach the real through the fantasm as, in the words of Lacan, the “real supports the phantasy, and the phantasy protects the real” (Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis 41). The real is in truth “the impossible”, as he also says, because I cannot have knowledge (connaissance) of its truth except through language, i.e., through the filter of the fantasm.
On the other hand, it is possible to have another kind of knowledge, a savoir, of its truth: a kind of knowledge that comes to me in a moment of jouissance as the ego gives way to knowledge of the Other, the body and the real.
The fantasm protects the ego from the real, from the subject’s psychological reality and the recognition of the desire of the Other, but the real returns haunting the subject, a return which the fantasm both protects and seeks to protect itself from: protects because it is the cornerstone of the ego’s structure; protects itself from because the real’s making itself known can only be perceived as a threat to the ego, a threat that brings unease, anxiety and disorientation.
How, then, does this double-edged act manifest itself? Let me give an example: Jonah is middle-aged and leads, it seems, a successful life but he is haunted by the real which makes itself known from time to time. He is however not able to answer to its call and to follow its desire, the desire of the Other. Instead of that he has developed a compulsory defence mechanism that catches, soothes and sets desire out of function with one and the same gesture. The telephone is an object of repulsion/fascination that functions as a tool in his defence: first he gives in to the impulse, dials the object of desire but controls the impulse at the same time by allowing only one signal to ring before hanging up, because he doesn’t want an answer, he doesn’t want to answer to the call of the Other, he doesn’t want to/cannot see and recognise his desire, yet he cannot avoid being haunted by it.
As can be seen from this example, the fantasm is mute and inarticulate, it just repeats itself, here in an obsessional neurosis that harnesses the free mobility of the unconscious. The fantasm is an impasse, a dead end, the brick wall against which we bang our heads.